Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a behavioral brain disorder that affects over five million children and teens in the United States. Diagnoses of the disorder have been on the rise and ADHD is now the most diagnosed disorder in kids and it is thought to impact between 3 and 5 percent of children in the country.
ADHD’s Symptoms And Struggles
Having ADHD means struggling to pay attention and staying focused on tasks, trouble controlling behaviors, and being impulsive and hyper. For kids with ADHD, these symptoms make academic success, as well as a normal social life in school, challenging to achieve. What causes ADHD is not fully understood, but research using brain scans shows that children with ADHD show delayed brain development. This delay is most pronounced in regions of the brain involved in planning, thinking and attention.
Possible Causes Of ADHD
While the brain scans help to describe the differences between children with and without ADHD, they do not explain what causes them. Certain genetic factors are thought to be involved in the development of the disorder. Environmental causes may play a role as well. These could include alcohol, cigarette smoke and lead. In addition, some people are beginning to wonder if another factor could be diet. More research is needed, but there are clues indicating that diet may play a role in the development of ADHD.
Diet Factors That May Affect ADHD
It seems logical that sugar could be a cause for ADHD symptoms. When you consume sugar, you get a spike of energy. This can cause you to lose focus and to feel hyper until the high wears off and you begin to feel sluggish. There is no real evidence from the scientific community that sugar in any form causes ADHD. However, sugar does not help a child who already has ADHD. It can exaggerate the symptoms and make focusing and behaving properly more difficult.
Another popular idea is that additives to processed foods cause ADHD. As with sugar, research has been conducted, but no evidence has yet been found that additives can be included as a cause for the disorder. The studies have, however, proven that certain food additives increase hyperactivity in children. These include the preservative sodium benzoate, and certain colorings like yellows No. 5, 6, and 10, as well as red No. 40.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that food labels contain all the additives and colorings on ingredient lists. This can make it tough to avoid additives, which is helpful when trying to see if eliminating them helps your child. The FDA does not believe there is enough evidence against these additives to make their labeling a requirement.
Gluten and Casein
In some cases, food sensitivities or allergies in a child can mimic the symptoms of ADHD. Some experts believe that there are many false diagnoses of the disorder that can truly be attributed to food allergies. For instance, celiac disease, which is sensitivity to gluten, can produce a foggy-like effect in the brain. Sensitivity to casein has a similar effect. Gluten is found in many foods because it is a component of common grains, especially wheat. Casein comes from dairy and is also prevalent in processed foods.
Being deficient in certain nutrients can also produce symptoms that are similar to those of ADHD. Particularly, a protein deficiency can make a child feel sluggish and lethargic. Without enough protein, a child may have trouble concentrating and paying attention. Low blood sugar can have a similar effect. Children who are hypoglycemic need to eat more frequently to avoid blood sugar drops and the accompanying symptoms.
The ADHD Diet
While the connection between ADHD and food is not conclusively proven, we do know that diet can affect a child’s ability to focus, to pay attention, to complete tasks and to behave appropriately at home and at school. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, or is showing symptoms of the disorder, speak to your doctor about dietary changes that might help. You may also want to consider seeing a nutritionist for some expert advice.
A good general plan for an ADHD diet should include plenty of whole grains, lean proteins and a diversity of fruits and vegetables. Make sure your child gets plenty of protein and avoids sugary foods and those with refined, simple carbohydrates. The latter includes things like white bread, white rice and potatoes. Whole grains are better because they provide lasting energy and do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Also include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which are lacking in most diets and are important for brain health. Always remember to work with your doctor on any plan for treating your child’s ADHD symptoms.